A lack of purchasing power in the farming sector dominated by small and marginal people may restrict the wider use of genetically modified (GM) seeds in Bangladesh, said the US Department of Agriculture recently.
Farmers believe GM seeds are higher priced in comparison to non-GM varieties, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service's Bangladesh Agricultural Biotechnology Annual 2018 report.
“GM seeds for planting may also experience difficulty gaining market acceptability unless apprehensions about multinational seed companies are addressed.”
The report was released on December 12.
However, Md Jahangir Hossain, country project director of Feed the Future Biotech Project (potato and Bt brinjal) of USAID, said Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) sells both GM and non-GM brinjal seeds at the same price at Tk 700 per kilogram.
He said the price of Bt eggplant seeds of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) is Tk 5,000 per kilogram. But it will not affect farmers as BARI does not sell directly to growers, he said.
The USDA said there was a general recognition within Bangladesh's scientific and policy community that agricultural biotechnology offered a tool to provide food security to the country's growing population.
Nevertheless, some local advocacy groups publicly question GE technology, it added.
“Because there is a dearth of reliable information, many Bangladeshi citizens are not well-informed. The quality of publicly disseminated information is not always accurate or supported with sound science. Gaining future market acceptance will greatly depend on education efforts,” said the report.
Since 2013 Bangladesh has released four GE eggplant varieties infused with genes that are resistant to fruit and shoot borer (FSB) disease, the most devastating pest in South and Southeast Asia.
BARI released the GM vegetable and is seeking approval from the government to release three more varieties of eggplants.
Farmers apply heavy doses of pesticide to protect eggplants from pest infestation.
Bangladesh Rice Research Institute and Cotton Development Board are working to release GE rice and cotton which bear the names Golden Rice and Bt Cotton respectively.
The USDA terms Bangladesh a role model in case of accepting and advancing modern biotechnologies in daily life.
It said with innovative biotech support from the world scientific community, Bangladesh was progressing gradually to initiate research and trials of new GE varieties.
The government is also supporting scientists in this advancement, but regulatory policies are not fully developed to cover all aspects of production and marketing, it added.
“Although, government funding for research is limited, Bangladesh became a leader in GE vegetables, such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) brinjal production, for commercial use and consumption,” said the report.
Since the release, the Bari has been producing and distributing Bt brinjal seeds among farmers. The highest amount of seeds of GE eggplant, 1,827 kilogrammes (kg), was produced in fiscal 2016-17.
Production of seeds of Bt brinjal by BADC slumped to 612 kg in 2017-18, according to the USDA report, which says 1,400 kg of seeds are in stock.
The USDA said seed multiplication was continuing through increased interest of farmers. Some 1.50 lakh farmers produce brinjal on their farms and 23 percent of them are producing Bt Brinjal.
It is estimated that 5.95 percent of 80,000 acres of farm land set aside for growing brinjal are cultivated with Bt brinjal, according to the report.
Dilafroza Khanam, chief scientific officer and head of the biotechnology division of the Bari, said farmers got higher production as the fruit and shoot borer disease did not affect the crops for use of GE seeds.